Student Survey Reveals Textbook Views

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
Students in TMCC Library Image

The Elizabeth Sturm Library at TMCC includes computer labs, workstations and study areas.

Truckee Meadows Community College Elizabeth Sturm Library staff members and the TMCC Library Committee recently surveyed about 845 students regarding their views on textbook costs, and attitudes on alternate online texts that are copyright-free and open access.

“It’s really the biggest innovation in education—adopting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER), materials written by professors around the world,” said Neil Siegel, Resource Librarian. “Other professors can adapt and adopt these resources and books for their courses and greatly reduce the cost for students.”

During weeks 10–13 of Fall Semester, staff members asked students in the Learning Commons, the café, and in common areas if they’d be willing to fill out the short survey. TMCC Library Committee faculty members also asked students attending their in-person classes if they would like to participate.

Results of the current survey showed that a majority of students—75 percent—reported the cost of textbooks impacted their day-to-day life or ability to continue their studies.

“What I saw numerous times was that ‘the cost of a textbook has caused me to live an austere life,’” Siegel said. “Financial aid and family support dollars went to that instead of living expenses.”

This is the second time Siegel has led the survey. After the first survey two years ago, he posted the results on the Creative Commons OER listserv for other interested educators to access.

New Grant Supports Faculty Adoption of OER

On March 5, the TMCC Foundation approved a new Innovation Grant to further support Open Educational Resource adoption, adaption and creation.

Full- and part-time faculty who participate will be provided a newly purchased iPad or tablet to develop open resource texts and materials for in-person and online courses. The tablet will assist the professor or instructor to research, download, organize, outline, or write new quality OER resources.

To be eligible for the iPad or tablet, faculty members applying for the grant are required to replace a printed textbook with a digital and free, open-resource text. The course must be developed, approved, and in place by Fall Semester 2018. If they develop original materials, their byline can be added to the work.

“OER books carry the author’s name, or the chapter written, even when others add to the material—they just add their name,” Siegel said. “At TMCC, Jim Collier, Scott Huber and Eddie Burke have adopted a Biology OER resource. They can add their own edits or content.”

Open text resources that Siegel and other instructors have already used for teaching have test banks and learning module systems (LMS), very similar to the structure of printed textbooks that include supplemental resources. The majority are peer-reviewed.

“OER books mirror what the textbooks provide,” he added. “It’s all about creation, adaption, and adoption. I will assist faculty members in identifying and adopting OER. This is a fabulous project that can make a significant difference for our students.”

The faculty members participating in the grant project will be able to keep the tablet or iPad upon completion of the project.

Survey Results Showed Impact of Text Costs

The 2017 student survey was conducted with paper and pencil, and included four questions and an additional comments section.

Below are two sample survey questions, and the results:

In your academic career, has the cost of required textbooks caused you any of the following?

  • Not purchase the textbook: 43 percent
  • Take fewer classes: 37 percent
  • Not register for a specific class: 20 percent
  • Use a text on reserve in the library: 20 percent
  • Not purchase the textbook and thus earn a poor grade: 24 percent
  • Not purchase the text and end up dropping a class: 10 percent
  • Fail a class: 7 percent
  • No impact: 25 percent

Would you prioritize taking a class that provided a free online accessible textbook?

  • Yes: 88 percent
  • No: 12 percent
  • Note: The majority of no's also reported no impact

Additional questions were asked for statistical purposes. They pertained to the amount of credits completed to date, and credits taken during the Fall Semester.

A Surprising Finding

One unexpected result of the survey was that 20 percent of students reported they used the printed textbooks on reserve in the Library for regular class reading and research.

They were not able to use supplemental materials accessed by key code. However, a substantial amount of the information they needed to complete the course was accessed by the students, Siegel added.

Movers and Shakers in the OER Movement

Colleges in California, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Washington are leading the promotion of OER materials on a national scale.

“Community colleges in Washington and Virginia, and I believe in Oregon now too, have degrees that are fully based on Open Educational Resource texts and materials,” Siegel said. “De Anza College in California is a heavy hitter on this one.”

He added that adopting OER materials is a priority for many of the faculty at TMCC because digital materials are frequently updated as information and data are added to the content posted for a variety of subject areas.

“As an instructor, you have to be constantly engaged in what is happening in your field—we live in an age of information boom,” he added.

For more information about Open Educational Resources already in place at TMCC, the Elizabeth Sturm Library, the OER Student Survey, or to participate in the Innovation Grant please contact Neil Siegel at 775-674-7608.